Sign up to our free US news bulletin sent straight to your inbox each weekday morningSign up to our free morning US email news bulletin
Alex Murdaugh “immediately” suggested that his wife and son had been murdered because of a 2019 fatal boat crash as soon as the first law enforcement officer arrived on the scene of the grisly slayings.
Bodycam footage was played in Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, South Carolina, on Thursday morning as testimony began in the high-profile double murder trial of the disgraced legal dynasty heir.
The footage, taken from the bodyworn camera of Colleton County Sheriff’s Sgt Daniel Greene, revealed a seemingly frantic Mr Murdaugh telling the officer he believed the murders of his wife Maggie Murdaugh, 52, and son Paul Murdaugh, 22, are connected to the boating incident.
“This is a long story. My son was in a boat wreck,” Mr Murdaugh is heard saying in the bodycam footage.
“I know that’s what this is.”
At the time of Paul’s death, he was awaiting trial over the death of 19-year-old Mallory Beach.
Paul was allegedly drunk driving a boat of his friends including Beach in 2019 when it crashed and they were thrown overboard. The rest of the group survived but Beach’s body washed up days later.
Paul was charged with boating under the influence and faced up to 25 years in prison.
He was killed before the trial could proceed when, on the night of 7 June 2021, he and his mother Maggie were found shot dead at their sprawling family estate in Islandton, South Carolina.
Paul had been shot twice – once in the head and once in the chest – with a shotgun while Maggie was shot five times with an automatic rifle – with some of the bullets striking her when she had already fallen to the ground.
Mr Murdaugh, the 54-year-old heir to a prominent legal dynasty, called 911 claiming he found their bodies after returning from his elderly mother’s house.
More than a year on from the murders, he was arrested in July 2022 and charged with their murders.
He is now facing life in prison on two counts of murder and two counts of possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime. Mr Murdaugh has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Alex Murdaugh sobs during opening statements of his murder trial
Testimony began in the trial on Thursday morning with Sgt Greene the first witness to take the stand for the prosecution.
Sgt Greene told the court that he was the first law enforcement officer to respond to the scene of Maggie and Paul’s murders.
He testified that “immediately” after he arrived at the family estate, Mr Murdaugh proceeded to volunteer information about the boat crash and suggested the two incidents were connected.
Earlier this month, the Murdaugh family reached a wrongful death settlement with the Beach family.
Sgt Greene also told the court that Mr Murdaugh seemed “upset” and repeatedly asked if his wife and son were dead but did not appear to have any physical tears in his eyes.
“Did you ever see any physical tears?” the prosecutor asked.
“I did not,” the officer said.
In the from Sgt Greene’s bodyworn camera, Mr Murdaugh sounds emotional as he speaks to the officer, telling him Maggie and Paul’s details and volunteering his alibi that he was visiting his mother at the time.
He is heard asking “they’re not dead, are they?” to which the officer says he believes they are.
As the bodycam footage was played in court, Mr Murdaugh was seen breaking down in tears and wiping his eyes.
The second witness – Corporal Chad McDowell of Colleton County Sheriff’s Department – also testified about Mr Murdaugh’s behaviour when he arrived on the scene of the murders.
Corp McDowell’s bodycam footage revealed that when he arrived, Mr Murdaugh cordially greeted him: “How you doing?”
However, under cross-examination, the officer said that Mr Murdaugh did appear to be distraught and confirmed that he saw no blood on the clothes he was wearing.
Other first responders also took the stand on Thursday as well as 911 dispatch centre workers, with jurors hearing the unredacted 911 call placed by Mr Murdaugh on the night of the murders.
In the dramatic audio, Mr Murdaugh cries and and sobs down the phone as he tells the dispatcher “it’s bad” and “my wife and child have been shot badly”.
When asked if his loved ones were still breathing, he responds “no” and urges them to “please hurry”.
Mr Murdaugh also tells the dispatcher that he hasn’t seen anyone on the property.
In the call, Mr Murdaugh also tells the dispatcher about the 2019 boat crash involving Paul, saying that the 22-year-old had been getting threats “for months and months and months”.
The attorney then tells the dispatcher he is going back to his house to get a gun “just in case”.
Much of the cross-examination of Thursday’s witnesses saw Mr Murdaugh’s attorney Dick Harpootlian trying to pick holes in the way eence was preserved at the crime scene.
He questioned Sgt Greene about whether he preserved and took photos of tyre tracks and footprints spotted behind a trailer.
The officer confirmed he had not taken photos and that he and other responders did not cover their feet while standing in the crime scene. However he testified that they were all operating in accordance with standard procedure.
Corp McDowell, meanwhile, testified that the crime scene was taped off, he marked shell casings on the ground and that – to the best of his knowledge – he did not disturb anything at the scene. He told the court that he even intentionally leaped, rather than stepped, out of the feed room to avoid disturbing any eence.
Captain Jason Chapman of the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office, who also responded to the scene that day, told the court that he learned there was a storm incoming on his arrival and so first responders instantly set to work on arranging tents to cover the bodies.
He testified to seeing tyre marks in the wet grass close to Maggie’s body which did not seem to correspond with the vehicles on the scene.
When law enforcement began investigating the tracks, Mr Murdaugh’s demeanour changed and he became more interested in what they were doing and watched them out of the corner of his eye, Capt Chapman testified.
It remains unclear how Maggie and Paul travelled to the kennels that night – which are located around 1,000 yards from the home.
Like the other officials on the scene, he said he saw no visible signs of blood on Mr Murdaugh – something he agreed would have been likely if he had touched their bodies like he said in the 911 call. However, he confirmed that Mr Murdaugh was cooperative with the gunshot residue testing.
During Thursday’s testimony, Mr Murdaugh was seen sobbing and wiping tears from his eyes on multiple occasions when the bodycam footage and crime scene photos were shown in court. His family continued to put on a united front, supporting him in the public gallery.
During opening arguments on Wednesday, both the prosecution and the defence had gone into graphic detail about the horrific injuries suffered by the two victims.
Mr Murdaugh sobbed when his attorney Dick Harpootlian described the fatal shot which killed his son Paul, saying it “exploded his brain, like a watermelon”.
Mr Murdaugh then arrived home and found his son’s brains by his feet, he said.
Mr Harpootlian insisted Mr Murdaugh is an innocent man, saying that jurors will see a Snapchat of him and Paul happily spending father-and-son time together less than two hours before the murders.
He also argued that cellphone records from that night are “incomplete” and that Maggie’s phone was thrown on the side of a road half a mile from the family estate at the same time that Mr Murdaugh was at the property.
The suspect would “have to be Houdini to be in both places”, he said.
Maggie and Paul Murdaugh were gunned down at the family hunting lodge
However, the prosecution told jurors that cellphone records and a Snapchat taken by Paul minutes before he died are “critical” in proving Mr Murdaugh’s guilt.
Attorney Creighton Waters gave a timeline for the murders, saying that Paul was shot at the dog kennels first at 8.50pm and Maggie minutes later.
Cellphone records allegedly place Mr Murdaugh at the dog kennels minutes earlier – when the suspect had “told everyone he was never there”.
Mr Waters also described a Paul made at the kennels minutes before his murder as he was filming a dog to send to a friend. According to the prosecution, three voices – Paul, Maggie and Mr Murdaugh – can be heard.
Other eence the prosecution promised to show jurors included gunshot residue found in both Mr Murdaugh’s car, on him and on a raincoat that he allegedly left at his parents’ home a week after the murders.
Prosecutors say that Mr Murdaugh killed his wife and son in an attempt to distract from the other crimes and scandals swirling around him.
At the time of the murders, Mr Murdaugh was believed to be facing financial ruin from a 20-year opioid addiction and – one day earlier – had been confronted by his law firm PMPED over an alleged multi-million-dollar fraud scheme.
Now, Mr Murdaugh is charged with more than 100 counts from multiple indictments alleging he stole nearly $8.5m from clients at his law firm in fraud schemes going back a decade.
The attorney, who has since been disbarred, allegedly represented the clients in wrongful death settlements before pocketing the money for himself.
Alleged victims include family members of Gloria Satterfield family, the Murdaugh’s longtime housekeeper who died in a mysterious trip and fall accident at the family home in 2018.
At the time, her death was regarded as an accidental fall – though the investigation was reopened after Maggie and Paul’s murders.
Three months on from the murders – on 4 September 2021 – Mr Murdaugh allegedly conspired to pay a hitman to shoot him dead so that Buster would inherit a $10m life insurance windfall.
The now-disbarred attorney initially claimed he was ambushed in a drive-by shooting while changing a tyre on his vehicle, but his story quickly unravelled and he confessed to orchestrating the plot.
Mr Murdaugh and his alleged co-conspirator Curtis Smith were arrested and charged over the incident.
As well as the deaths of Beach and Satterfield, questions have also surfaced about other mystery deaths surrounding the Murdaughs.
Stephen Smith, 19, was found dead in the middle of the road in Hampton County, South Carolina. The openly gay teenager had suffered blunt force trauma to the head and his death was officially ruled a hit-and-run. But the victim’s family have long doubted this version of events, with the Murdaugh name cropping up in several police tips and community rumours.
An investigation was reopened into his death after Maggie and Paul’s murders.